The story of UD’s namesake WWII veteran

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Photo by Kathleen Miller.

Most students first encounter the name Eugene Constantin during their visits to the University of Dallas. Sophomores may be reminded again as they trek up the hill in Due Santi to start their Rome semester.

But always, the names Constantin, Maher, Haggar or Haggerty become markers around campus — with little more significance than that of the buildings they identify .

That’s unfortunate to someone like UD historian Sybil Novinksi, who has repeatedly encouraged students to learn about the university’s deep roots.

“The world didn’t start when you came in,” Novinski said. “And UD didn’t start when you came in.”

The story of 2nd Lieutenant Eugene R. Constantin III, USMC, the namesake of both the Constantin College of Liberal Arts and the Eugene Constantin Rome Campus, is one of those roots.

The Constantins were a wealthy North Texas oil and ranching family.

Constantin himself attended Highland Park High School and was a member of the nearby Holy Trinity Catholic Church. In 1940, he entered Yale University.

While at Yale, he was a member of the wrestling and football teams, the Yale Key Society, Delta Kappa Epsilon and the Aurelian Honor Society.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entrance into WWII, all the Ivy leagues became, in the words of Harvard President James Conant, “War Colleges.”

Every able-bodied male, including Constantin, joined the V-12 program, comparative to today’s Navy ROTC program.

Cadets graduated as soon as they could to join the war effort on the front lines.

For Constantin, who had already attended boot camp, that day came in the middle of the spring semester on March 25, 1944.

That same month, he began Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va. and was commissioned on Guadalcanal on Aug. 28, 1944.

He was assigned to the newly formed Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division.

Less than nine months after graduating college, he was in Guadalcanal preparing, for the eventual battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa was a key island for an eventual attack on the Japanese mainland, which is only about 300 miles away.

In what became the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theatre, thousands of marines and soldiers landed on April 1, 1945.

Within days, it became clear that Okinawa would be one of the bloodiest battles of WWII.

Dwindling Japanese resources caused most Japanese soldiers to resort to a guerilla style of fighting, culminating in suicidal banzai attacks on land and kamikaze attacks at sea.

After two weeks, most of Okinawa was taken because the Japanese troops concentrated all their effort into fortifying the Motobu peninsula, specifically on Mount Yaetake.

Captain Frank Kemp, a fellow Yale classmate of Constantin, described Constantin’s role in the assault.

“Gene’s platoon … advanced under heavy fire but took the ridge,” Kemp said. “Some 250 to 300 enem[ies] were killed, a great quantity of material was captured, and the resistance on Motobu was ended.”

During the attack, a marine was wounded, and Constantin attempted to drag him to safety.

He was killed instantly at the front of the attack.

“We have recommended him for a decoration for his courage and devotion to duty,” Kemp said. “He went out like all good Marines want to go if they must, at the head of his men leading the attack.”

Kemp reported one more informal, but nonetheless noteworthy, commendation:

“Mt. Yaetake is now called Constantin Hill.”

In the years that followed the war, the effort to build a Catholic college outside of Dallas took hold.

Eugene and Melodia Constantin, two of the new school’s early trustees, wanted to honor their son’s memory as part of the college. They created an endowment that made UD possible.

Few UD students today realize that the school they attend was made possible by the deepest sacrifice a person can make.

Now, as they ride up to the Constantin Campus or walk the incline to Haggar, they can remember the hill that Eugene Constantin climbed.

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